LAKE FOREST, Ill. | The Bears agreed to a three-year contract with defensive end Willie Young and a one-year deal with receiver Domenik Hixon on Thursday.
Young joins a defense that is getting a makeover after struggling in a big way last season. The Bears released eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers this week and brought in defensive end Lamarr Houston from Oakland, linebacker Jordan Senn from Carolina and safeties Ryan Mundy (New York Giants) and M.D. Jennings (Green Bay).
Now, they have two new starting ends in Young and Houston.
"This is important for us to get a second defensive lineman, a quality starter, an opportunity for Willie to grow and for us to grow with him," general manager Phil Emery said on a conference call. "When we went into free agency we felt that if we could find a way to get two starting defensive linemen, we would have made forward progress. We've been able to accomplish that."
The 28-year old Young spent four years with Detroit and can play on the left or right side. He had 47 tackles, three sacks, five pass breakups and two fumble recoveries last season. He had discussions with Jacksonsville but wound up in Chicago, instead.
"Having (linebacker Lance) Briggs here anchoring the middle, it goes a long ways, having that solid leadership starting from the middle and working our way out," Young said. "I'm excited to be here. And I'm looking forward to a very aggressive defense here in the making. And right now there's nothing to stop us other than ourselves."
Hixon had seven catches for 55 yards with Carolina in 2013. He has experience returning kickoffs and punts but did neither for the Panthers. Emery said he will get an opportunity to do that with Devin Hester gone.
He previously played for Denver (2006-07) and the New York Giants (2007-12). In Chicago, he'll be reuniting with quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall, his teammates with the Broncos.
Meanwhile, Emery said cornerback Charles Tillman's return remains "an ongoing process" and had no update on the free agent. He also said time is running short on defensive tackle Henry Melton to re-sign. Melton's been visiting other teams. The Bears are open to bringing him back, but their available cap space is shrinking.
"The clock's ticking," Emery said.
Melton was arrested and charged with assault and public intoxication following an altercation at a Dallas-area bar in December. His agent has said Melton did not start the incident.
"I think that's been an ongoing issue in terms of that issue coming to conclusion," Emery said. "In terms of evaluating Henry the player, that's separate from that."